Building a team is difficult in the NFL.
For some of the league’s more unfortunate franchises, it can take over a decade to finds its stride. But Miami Dolphins head coach and general manager Chris Grier have seemingly cracked the code. After just one 5-11 season under Flores, the Dolphins now sit at 10-5 and are gearing up for its first playoff birth since 2016.
A lot of the current success is due to the stellar defense played by the emerging unit which holds opposing offenses to a league-leading 18.8 points per game.
But there is a noticeable correlation between Miami’s strong second half of the season and the transition to former Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
Since taking over as the team’s starter, Tagovailoa has led Miami to a 7-2 record after veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick started the season 3-3. The team currently holds the No. 5 spot in the AFC playoff chase with one game to go making the season an unmitigated success.
But there is one shade to this portrait that has a chance of coming back to haunt the Dolphins if not corrected.
Within this playoff push, Flores has made a few questionable choices with his young quarterback with the most recent one coming last Saturday against the Las Vegas Raiders. Flores benched Tagovailoa early in the fourth quarter in a close ball game in favor of Fitzpatrick. It’s the second time since Tagovailoa took over where the second-year head coach opted to go back to the 38-year-old journeyman.
Fitzpatrick was ultimately able to pull out an improbable comeback with seconds to go which resulted in a 26-25 win.
Right now the team will remember the facemask penalty which put the Dolphins in field goal range, but in the long run, Flores will need to break the habit of benching Tagovailoa in these crucial situations.
In his postgame press conference, Flores referred to Fitzpatrick as a closer in the ninth inning, who will come secure the win for the team if needed. He also made it a point that Tagovailoa would remain the starter and that the team is pleased with his performance of late.
“Tua has brought us a spark in a lot of other games. I think people will just forget that because we just remember the last thing,” Flores said. “Speculation on whatever people want to speculate about as far as what we should or shouldn’t do based on last night, I wouldn’t do that and forget the body of work over the course of the season to include the last however many games Tua has been starting [eight]. I think he’s played fairly well.
“People may disagree, but I think we would have to agree to disagree in that instance. That’s my take on that. It’s not based off one game or one quarter — there’s a lot of practices that people don’t see, walk-throughs that no one sees. But everyone wants to make a judgment and try to make a decision for us on what we should do without all that information.”
It’s all good and well that the Dolphins believe Tagovailia has sparked the team to a potential playoff birth. But the question still remains.
What’s more important, having Tagovailoa gain important, tangible experience? Or potentially stunting his growth in hopes of obtaining a wildcard spot?
Both choices are admirable, but with the amount of money and resources put into Tagovailoa, developing him now to have success for the next decade may be more important, and that can’t happen if he keeps getting pulled in these close games.
At some point, Tagovailoa is going to need to work himself out of these rough starts and fourth-quarter deficits. There isn’t always going to be an option behind him to bail him out, and he can’t get it fixed in his brain that there will always be someone right over his shoulder because then he will begin to press.
Any franchise would also much prefer its young quarterback to try and pull off a comeback for the first time in a regular-season game as opposed to a primetime playoff game, which is something that may very well happen.
Getting this type of experience early can go a long way for a young quarterback.
Another key factor Miami needs to consider is the outside pressure it is putting on Tagovailoa from both the fans and media.
All early-round draft picks are going to be nit-picked to death when they screw up and assumptions will be made regardless. But what teams need to do is to try and not create any sort of unnecessary criticism which is something that may come Tagovailoa’s way if this trend continues.
Although everything may seem fine and dandy to Flores when Fitzpatrick can come in and pull out these wins, it gives fans the avenue to lose faith in Tagovailoa. Questions will begin to emerge whether he truly is the future of the franchise or if he was even worth the first-round pick in the first place.
Even if Flores doesn’t believe in this chatter, it 100% will take a toll at some point.
Every late turnover or three and out made by Tagovailoa in future second halves will now be put under a microscope and endlessly critiques and brought up on morning shows.
There’s a popular saying in the NFL, “if you have two quarterbacks, you have none,” and it’s held true for years.
Miami needs to fully commit to Tagovailoa and allow him the make mistakes and gain experience now because it might be too late if they continue to have him on a tight leash.
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Patrick Dowd is a Reporter for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter, via Pat_Dowd77